SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

Vega lands in Rome to take FIFA presidential challenge to UEFA

By Paul Nicholson and Andrew Warshaw

February 5 – Ramon Vega has landed in Rome in advance of the UEFA Congress to carry out some last minute lobbying in advance of the deadline for nominations for the FIFA presidential elections that will be held in June in Paris.

The former Swiss international footballer turned international businessman is the only potential candidate to have revealed his intention to take on FIFA president Gianni Infantino.“These are the last hours before the nomination deadline closes. As I have said before, there are many things that make me uncomfortable with the present direction of FIFA. Not least the sense of fear amongst too many member associations that prevents them standing up and being counted. This isn’t the kind of football I played,” he said.

With the deadline for submission of candidatures slated for midnight tonight, FIFA are expected to announce those who have put their names forward at around noon on Wednesday.

All applicants have to present the support of at least five of the 211 FIFA member associations in order to remain in the process.  Integrity checks will then be undertaken before the final list of contenders is announced for any face-off at the FIFA Congress in Paris in June.

Last week, Vega, confirmed he was “actively considering” taking on Infantino.

In a series of interviews with Insideworldfootball, he expressed his concern at the lack of accountability and financial transparency under the Infantino regime, and the heavy handed role of the FIFA executive in the ‘management’ of their member associations.

“Having a democratic FIFA is not something that should be feared, it is something that should be embraced, especially by the leadership. We are a long way from that presently and I hope to persuade a few more people to stand up and be counted. This isn’t a judgement day scenario for FIFA, though it is absolutely a crucial time for FIFA which needs to take a very hard look at the direction it is being driven and whether that is best for world football. Obviously I question that or otherwise I wouldn’t be putting myself forward,” said Vega.

“I have met very few federations in my travels that don’t have concerns and we have all the heard the public statements from UEFA in particular. That is why I am in Rome. We have to see now whether they have what it takes to send a message properly or whether it is perhaps a lot of talk.”

Until last week, it had been widely assumed that Infantino would stand unchallenged and be automatically handed a second term. Infantino has confirmed that he will be attending the UEFA congress.

Vega has been exploring the mood and tone among world football’s movers and shakers for the best part of three years, travelling extensively round the globe under the radar dedicating his energy to talking to influential parties about what needs to change.

Of particular focus is Infantino’s $25 billion plan to sell off FIFA’s international competition calendar, a concern shared among the UEFA hierarchy, not least its president Aleksander Ceferin who has been openly critical about the lack of  sufficient consultation with European stakeholders.

The bottom line, almost certainly, is that the massive increases in development funding to national federations will give Infantino a clear run at his first full term, having taken over the last three of Sepp Blatter’s ultimately doomed regime. Vega believes that federations could very easily get more money than is currently being distributed, but that FIFA is still restricted by its global image and business practices.

Infantino has the support of most continental confederations, though in the past that has proved a fickle pledge with no confederation having either the authority or ultimate control to be able to enforce such a mandate. Only UEFA, of which ironically he was general secretary for six years, have openly criticised his reign amid accusations by his critics that he has failed to clean up the organisation following the FifaGate scandal and is in fact running FIFA even more autocratically than the previous regime.

Next step for Vega is to gauge European support and submit his nomination letters. If that happens then the real battle begins and Europe may even get the kind of FIFA leadership they had hoped for last time when they were instrumental in installing Infantino.

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